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Blogger Visits Morocco, Meets Jews

Armchair orientalism on The Huffington Post

Hadara Graubart
July 17, 2009
The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511(Wikipedia)
The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511(Wikipedia)

“Unlike when we were first there some 50 years before,” writes Huffington Post-er Robert M. Grossman, who bills himself as a “writer and lawyer” in an odd post about a trip to Morocco, “many travelers have now been to these places so a current description of our visit to them adds little.” Unfortunately, he can’t help himself, and his fetishistic recounting of a recent trip back—full of “garments of sackcloth,” “honey-scented pomegranates,” and “the appealing aroma of jasmine”—does indeed add little to the body of exoticized portrayals of desert lands and their people in everything from Montesquieu to Indiana Jones. Unable to stop at florid portraits of women with “bespangled and tattooed hands and feet,” Grossman salivates at the thought that they were “doubtless on their way to pray in one of those far-off mosques or assemble for a family meal of figs, dates and flat cakes of leavened bread heated on an open oven outside the metal shed or tent where they lived.”

Grossman’s tale of differences transcended begins with himself and the naval buddy with whom he traveled: “I had never known a Catholic as well as I came to know him, nor he a Jew.” But despite reveling in the “allure of observing droves of Arabs on foot,” Grossman was skeptical when some “men of olive complexion” stopped to help him when his car broke down and, for once, “there wasn’t a camel or donkey in sight.” But when he realized his erstwhile robbers were speaking Hebrew, he solemnly recited the shema, and all was well: “Their Sephardic eyes lit up.”

Things Jewish [HuffPo]

Hadara Graubart was formerly a writer and editor for Tablet Magazine.